I stood there, frozen. Frustrated. On the verge of tears.
And I felt like an ass.
Two weeks prior, our Vocal Basics instructor had given us all songs to learn. We first had to learn the lyrics and perform them as a monologue. Then, we were given the audio files so we could learn how to sing it. I rehearsed and rehearsed, annoying my neighbors in the process and making my dogs stare at me as if what the fuck can’t you turn that shit down?
And then Chicago weather hit. Class was canceled on the day we were to present our songs. Our instructor had even mentioned that “song day” historically had the highest absenteeism rate, as folks were afraid of singing in front of people. She challenged us to show up.
I showed up. And class was canceled.
I just didn’t know that she’d be asking us to do the songs the NEXT week because we were told that the class would be made up on a different date.
So there I stood, on a small stage in a tiny theatre. Miserable. Embarrassed. I’d forgotten the lyrics to the song (thanks, concussion of June 2013), I hadn’t rehearsed it in a week. And that wasn’t even the worst part.
It was the song. The lyrics. The subject.
The song I was given was “Shy” from a musical called Once Upon a Mattress. When I got the email with my assigned song, I popped open the doc with the lyrics in it and tears welled up in my eyes.
I’ve always been shy, I’ll confess it, I’m shy!
Can’t you guess that this confident air is a mask that I wear, ‘cause I’m shy?
And you may be sure way down deep I’m demure though some people I know may deny it – at bottom I’m quiet and pure!
I’m aware that it’s wrong to be meek as I am; my chances may pass me by.
I pretend to be strong, but as weak as I am, all I can do is try.
God knows, I try! Though I’m frightened and shy, and despite the impression I give, I confess that I’m living a lie.
Because I’m actually terribly timid and horribly shy!
This woman had just met me and she saw right through me.
Because I am actually terribly timid…and horribly shy.
When I climb onto a stage or sit down in front of my keyboard, I transform. I go somewhere else. I become the Me that I struggle with becoming and being in my everyday, most unremarkable, and exceedingly ordinary life.
And for anyone who’s ever seen me walk into some sort of mixer or cocktail hour type of event, here’s what you’ll notice:
- I will grab a bottle of water and cling to it like a life preserver on the fucking Titanic.
- I will scan the room to find the one person I know. The beeline I blaze to reach them would make the waste laid by napalm in Vietnam look like a papercut.
- I will check my phone or the wall clock or someone else’s phone as often as possible, hoping that the hour I’ve allotted to this certain flavor of social hell will end and I can retreat to the solace of a small dinner with good friends or the quiet of a strange hotel room with a bed of questionable comfort.
I am shy. And it feels terribly shitty to tell you that.
If you want to talk Meyers-Briggs, I’m an INFP. I even had a date back in January who also identified as an introvert consistently use my “I” status as a point of making fun. Which felt super duper. Because we all know it’s impossible to be an introvert and have a public-facing persona. I’m taking improv and standup comedy classes. I’m a speaker for a living. And all of this is completely incongruent with being an introvert and actually being shy.
As the lyrics of the song go, this confident air is (no bullshit) a mask that I wear because I am shy. And it’s not that I lack confidence (though some days are inarguably better than others). It’s just that it takes a whole lot of fucking energy — like 36 hours worth of Five Hour Energy when I don’t even know how you get 36 hours out of a five-hour product — to do what I do.
And I can’t say that I’ve always been shy, but since Jason died, I’ve found a lot more purpose in thinking and reflecting than being the life of the party. Some of you have even commented that the “hard and angry edge” my brand used to have has gone.
Which it has. Being introverted and embracing that part of my personality has been the most incredible gift. I find better stories. Better people. Better stories starring better people. I find humor where I used to find pain and it just pisses me off that I get all teary-eye because an instructor I barely knew gave me a song I didn’t know that somehow said she knew me and it just hit way to close to home to even be comfortable.
Which is why I was frozen. Standing there. Never having sung solo in front of anyone before, despite having just completed my 30th annual world tour (broadcast entirely from my shower and the inside of my Honda).
Because I’m shy.
It took a metric shit ton of something — what it is, I have no idea — to not lose my shit and just burst out into tears. Because I felt found out. Like someone had pulled back my curtain and instead of finding some wizard-type dude, they got a Chia Pet and a bag of half-eaten Cool Ranch Doritos.
To my instructor’s credit, she didn’t smack me down. She didn’t make me feel bad in any way. She worked with me to get as much of that song out of me as was going to happen that day. Then, she asked me to do the song as a character — a mid-40s uppercrust housewife.
Suddenly, I sang. I’m sure I didn’t sing well, but I sang. The class said that I immediately seemed more relaxed.
The minute I became a character, I was more relaxed.
That’s why it sucks to be shy. Because each day, I sit here and tell you that your YOU is the most important asset you have. It’s a YOU worth loving and leading with in everything you do and dare to dream. And here I am, saying the only way I can do what I do is to tap into an inkling of something else…
Imagine for a moment that I’m someplace different.
Be that person who is entirely confident in her worldview.
Well, that’s my ME. While she’s (horribly) shy, she finds a way to tell stories that make people feel something. And there’s something I dig about hanging in the background, watching all of you laugh and thrive. I really dig the feeling of being delightfully invisible, making badass alchemy to get you closer to your Next. Because if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to tell a story. How to take your hand and invite you to hold on until the sweet-ass end.
That sweet-ass end is where I become that next better version of myself, because you were along for the ride.
And terribly timid and shy though I may be, it doesn’t mean I can’t find a way to spoon up behind life each night the best way I know how. Reach a hand down to a naked hip and clench a bit. Lean forward and whisper, “I’m going to fuck you.” Because some things aren’t meant to be yelled from the rooftops. And sometimes life needs to know that while you might not be in full view and nestled in from behind, you’re still capable of great things.
PS: For those who know musical theatre, I know full well that the song “Shy” is performed contrary to the lyrics. However, when you’re looking at it from purely a lyrics-only standpoint with no reference — welcome to my world. Here’s Carol Burnett singing it.